SET Bermondsey: Kate Dunn 'Skin of Light' (until 26th September 2020)

I wasn't going to write about 'Skin of Light'. a show by London-based artist Kate Dunn hosted at the Bermondsey location of SET studios, mostly because I thought the exhibition's description did a good job of setting the scene for the show, and truthfully I was so overwhelmed (in a positive way!) by the show that I wanted to just bask in it for a while. However after sleeping on it I've been thinking about how profoundly it moved me, and how incredible it was; this has left me with the realisation that if I'm not writing about the art I love, what's the point of writing at all? So it is with this that I write considerably more personally on this occasion, about this wonderful installation that the artist has described as a "trash chapel of trance".

Installation view: Kate Dunn, Skin of Light, 17-26 September 2020. Photograph taken by me.

SET Bermondsey is a fairly large warehouse studio complex, equidistantly sandwiched between the more luxe side of Bermondsey, i.e. the area closer to London Bridge, and Old Kent Road, a highly congested main road which is essentially a thoroughfare through south London. The location of an arts space is very important, and I was thinking about it more closely with this exhibition as both location and artwork are quite the 'hidden gems'. Upon entering the project space, we find a large canvas, seemingly white with splashes of pink paint, against what appears to be a red latex curtain. As it happens the curtain does not have much of an impact once the installation gets going, but it is an interesting addition, given that the material is mostly associated with the S&M scene.

The artist informed us, during our pre-booked viewing slot, that the installation would involve total darkness, very loud music and changing but not flashing nor strobe lights. Having suffered from seizures in the past I am always wary of this, but thankfully I was safe to proceed. As I have discussed in the past, the marriage of music and visual art has always fascinated me and has been something I am drawn to, so I was excited to see the installation, especially given the current climate of no live music or clubs to go to. I'll take what I can get!

Portrait of the artist. Image courtesy of Cristina Schek

So the doors were closed and the installation began; an electronic soundtrack that somehow twinkled, full of synth and wonder, already instantly sparking nostalgic memories from two very different environments: Disneyland Paris and a Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs gig I went to back in 2012. But that, from the moment the installation begins, is the joy and talent of Dunn's work, a mix of influences that are personal and universal, and there to be inferred as the viewer sees fit. Now once the lights were switched off, the painting began to activate; the pink splashes of UV paint that we saw before were transformed by the light and the exhibition completely changed pace. The whole experience was elevated from a warehouse in Bermondsey to a personal audiovisual performance, which felt placeless, without geography. 

An electronic soundtrack accompanies the work, produced by Inigo Blue and Shoobz Darg. We are warned beforehand that the music is particularly loud, and while it's very possible that my hearing is getting worse, it certainly wasn't eardrum-shatteringly so. I sat there and allowed myself to be fully immersed in the piece; I have been sorely missing seeing live music, and finally I felt my attention span regain itself and almost recharge; I wasn't about to look at my phone, let anxiety set in, nor think about the outside world. My body and mind's response to music is one that I always find overwhelming; I find strength in music, I find meaning and I find purpose, which is bizarre to explain when it is electronic music we're talking about. 

Having a multi-sensory, or bodily, response feels like the optimum experience to come away with. 'Skin of Light' is about transcendence and the ways in which humans attempt to achieve it, whether this is through religion, drugs, art, architecture, music, dance, or a combination. As most of us can relate to this from each category from this litany, the exhibition manages to unite a vast swathe of us, perhaps without realising its own power. As the lights change very subtly, the intensity of the colours morph and gradually the details of the painting fully emerge. It is a real individual experience, as proven by the fact that the friend I saw the show with had a completely different perception of the painting to me; I thought I could see Munch's 'The Scream' yet they saw a figure being held. It is completely magical and absolutely achieves what it set out to do, celebrating and re-enacting the experience of transcendence, this time through contemporary art. I am so excited to see what the artist does next, and where this line of thought and practice leads.

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